Upward cascading effects of nutrients: shifts in a benthic microalgal community and a negative herbivore response. Academic Article uri icon


  • We evaluated the effects of nutrient addition on interactions between the benthic microalgal community and a dominant herbivorous gastropod, Cerithidea californica (California horn snail), on tidal flats in Mugu Lagoon, southern California, USA. We crossed snail and nutrient (N and P) addition treatments in enclosures on two tidal flats varying from 71 to 92% sand content in a temporally replicated experiment (summer 2000, fall 2000, spring 2001). Diatom biomass increased slightly (approximately 30%) in response to nutrient treatments but was not affected by snails. Blooms of cyanobacteria (up to 200%) and purple sulfur bacteria (up to 400%) occurred in response to nutrient enrichment, particularly in the sandier site, but only cyanobacterial biomass decreased in response to snail grazing. Snail mortality was 2-5 times higher in response to nutrient addition, especially in the sandier site, corresponding to a relative increase in cyanobacterial biomass. Nutrient-related snail mortality occurred only in the spring and summer, when the snails were most actively feeding on the microalgal community. Inactive snails in the fall showed no response to nutrient-induced cyanobacterial growths. This study demonstrated strongly negative upward cascading effects of nutrient enrichment through the food chain. The strength of this upward cascade was closely linked to sediment type and microalgal community composition.

published proceedings

  • Oecologia

author list (cited authors)

  • Armitage, A. R., & Fong, P.

citation count

  • 48

complete list of authors

  • Armitage, Anna R||Fong, Peggy

publication date

  • January 2004